modern express
The stricken Modern Express was at one point on a collision course with the French coastMarine Nationale

A stricken cargo ship which had been drifting in rough seas for days has been successfully dragged into port after a lengthy salvage operation. The Modern Express, which was at one point on a collision course with the French coast, was pulled into Bilbao port on 3 February.

The ship remains at a 45 degree angle having suffered an as-yet unexplained breakdown in rough seas more than a week ago, which saw it lose all power. The coming days will see attempts to upright the 164-metre-long (538-foot) vessel in the biggest ever such operation organised by the port of Bilbao, according to AFP.

The Panama-registered ship was transporting 3,600 tonnes of wood along with construction machinery from Gabon to France. The crew sent a distress signal on 26 January after the ship listed to the side, possibly due to its cargo coming free and moving around in rolling seas.

The incident saw its 22 crew members evacuated by two Spanish helicopters as marine authorities desperately tried – and failed – to hook a tugboat on to the vessel as it was bashed by waves. As it drifted through the Bay of Biscay, French authorities warned it was just 27 miles from shore and on a collision course with the French coast.

On 1 February, a last-ditch effort saw Dutch salvage experts lowered on to the Modern Express and attach a towline connected to a Spanish tugboat. If the operation had failed, the Modern Express would likely have crashed into France's coast, spreading its load and being dismantled or cut up.

But the tugboat was able to rotate the ship and drag it away from danger. By the evening of 2 February, it approached Bilbao with Spanish authorities delaying its entrance into the port until daylight the next day.

The cause of its near-capsize is still being investigated.